"Transgender Bridge," tonight's episode of NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, is summarized by the network as a tale of "transgender tragedy": "When a transgender teen is taunted by high school kids, bullying escalates to tragedy."
All too often in its 17 seasons on television, L&O:SVU has portrayed trans characters as sex workers, crime victims, undesirables and caricatures.
Tonight, a 15-year-old transgender girl named Avery Parker is shown walking home from school through New York City's Fort Tryon Park, where she's surrounded by a group of rowdy boys.
"Taunts and jokes intensify to pushing and shoving," reads the show's official description, "leaving Avery in the hospital and three assailants under arrest."
When the worst happens and the district attorney's office decides to try one of the culprits as an adult, "the SVU squad agonizes over whether the punishment fits the crime, and must deal with the pain of both families involved," according to a spokeswoman for NBC.
She told The Advocate the trans teenage girl is played by an actor named Christopher Dylan, who she says has had varied roles, including one in a short film for the band Counting Crows.
The Advocate asked Dylan's manager, through the spokeswoman, to disclose whether Dylan is cisgender (nontrans) and what pronouns would be preferable but did not receive a reply.
Avery's character has what NBC says is "a very supportive and loving family (her parents are played by real-life Tony-nominated couple Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker)." Actress Bianca Leigh plays Dr. Sandow, Avery's therapist who gives the eulogy at the funeral.
When asked if this episode is meant to show a change in direction by L&O: SVU, to showcase trans characters in a more sympathetic light than it has since 1999, the spokeswoman had this to say to The Advocate:
"SVU strives to start a conversation and educate viewers on topics that may not otherwise come to light on television. The show has been telling stories about and with trans characters since its inception -- some storylines that stood out for me were episodes like 'Fallacy' in 2003, where a transgender woman is faced with jail time in a men's prison, 'Identity' in 2005, where questions of 'nature vs. nurture' in a child's gender identity are put to an extreme test, and 'Transitions' in 2009 where two parents have vastly different views on the upbringing of their transgender child."
Full disclosure: The writer of this story appeared in "P.C.," a 2010 episode of Law & Order: SVU, as one of the angry lesbians who supported and then protested against a bisexual character played by Kathy Griffin.
You can read more about tonight's episode here from our sibling publication Out and watch a preview, below.